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Virginia men’s soccer gears up for ACC Tournament clash with Pittsburgh

The Cavaliers and the Panthers will meet for the second time this season

<p>The Cavaliers have a chance to solidify themselves as contenders with a strong performance in the ACC Tournament.</p>

The Cavaliers have a chance to solidify themselves as contenders with a strong performance in the ACC Tournament.

Following a successful regular season showing that placed No. 14 Virginia men’s soccer second In the ACC Coastal Division, the Cavaliers (9-4-3, 5-1-2 ACC) will enter the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament as the conference’s No. 3 seed. Virginia will play host to No. 6 seed Pittsburgh for its quarterfinal clash on Sunday, with the Panthers (8-3-5, 3-2-3 ACC) coming into this contest off the back of a 4-1 first-round victory over NC State Wednesday. 

While Pittsburgh didn’t live up to its preseason expectations — ranked as the No. 7 team in the country heading into the 2022 season — they are by no means a side to overlook. Pittsburgh will enter Sunday with momentum, having avoided defeat in seven consecutive matches since its 3-1 loss to the Cavaliers on Sept. 30. 

But despite suffering just three losses to this point, the Panthers are yet to show an ability to knock off the country’s best. Pittsburgh has played seven teams in the top 25 this season, accruing only six points and winning on just one occasion. If the Panthers want to keep their ACC Tournament hopes alive, that poor show of form against the NCAA’s elite will need to change. 

Pittsburgh will get the chance to buck that trend as Virginia is one of those elite. The Cavaliers come into this game with an undefeated streak of their own, putting together a five-game stretch without defeat to cap the regular season. As a result, Virginia’s No. 14 ranking is its highest this season, showcasing that this Cavaliers’ team seems to be peaking at exactly the right time. 

Leading that peak is a Virginia backline in fine form. The Cavaliers have kept seven clean sheets in 16 games during this campaign, headlined by a recent shutout victory over Wake Forest, the ACC’s highest-scoring unit. Virginia’s stingy defense is much of the reason it finds itself hosting an ACC Tournament game, and it will be crucial for its hopes to keep out a Pittsburgh team who sits third in the conference in goals.

The Cavaliers’ attack will be equally as important, and it will be junior forwards Leo Afonso and Philip Horton looking to wreak havoc on the Panthers. The attacking duo have combined to provide 11 goals and six assists for Virginia this season, doing much of the heavy lifting in the final third. Horton won National Player of the Week for his performance against Pittsburgh earlier in the season, netting two goals and adding an assist. If he finds similar success on Sunday, the Cavaliers will be well on their way to booking a place in the semifinals. 

Behind Horton and Afonso, junior midfielder Daniel Mangarov has run the show for Virginia in the middle of the pitch. His three goals and three assists lead all Cavalier midfielders, and the maestro will be looking to continue his outstanding season later this week. 

For Pittsburgh, junior midfielder Filip Mirkovic has been the shining star. Mirkovic paced the ACC with 10 assists in the regular season, and he added two more in the victory over NC State. The junior is joined in the middle by senior midfielder Valentin Noel, the Panthers’ leading goalscorer this season. Noel found the net for one of Pittsburgh’s four goals on Wednesday. Mirkovic and Noel have the versatility to cause all sorts of problems for Virginia’s defense, but they’ll need to display more than they did in the two sides’ last meeting. 

Overall, the Panthers are an extremely well balanced side. 14 different players have found the net for Pittsburgh in 2022, meaning the Cavaliers’ opposition can create danger from just about every blade of grass on the pitch. 

Despite Virginia’s higher seed, these two teams are extremely well-matched. The Cavaliers hold the head-to-head advantage, but all previous form will go out the window when the teams take the field Sunday. Virginia’s home field advantage could ultimately prove to be the deciding factor in a match that is expected to be tightly contested, so all involved can be sure that Klöckner Stadium will be a fortress come this weekend.

If the Cavaliers can take down the Panthers, they would advance to the semifinal to play No. 4 Syracuse or North Carolina next Wednesday.

The quarterfinal fixture is set for kickoff at 4 p.m., and the game will be streamed on ACC Network. 

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